26 June, 2011

What I Watched Last Month…

March 2011

Rango. (at the movies)
I had extremely high hopes for this movie, and I wasn't let down. I found it completely enchanting from beginning to end.
I'm not sure what Rango's greatest strength was, though I'm pretty sure it wasn't the story – the main narrative arc is pretty obvious very early on. What makes Rango so compelling is how that story is told.
It looks fantastic, with great environment and set design, wonderfully striking character design, and beautiful, proper, cinematography.
The writing's witty, the characters interesting, the story-telling full but not frenetic.
I loved the character designs, which to me felt very much influenced by bande dessinée (European comic book albums). They looked great, even if I wouldn't like to get up close and give them a cuddle. Not every animated character in the world has to be soft like a plush toy. These guys were covered in coarse hair, often had ugly heads and faces, and looked like they smelled bad, but they were fully realised, totally believable, and brilliantly acted/voiced/animated. It's a wonderful ensemble cast, and quite large, but every one of them had a part to play, getting the right amount of screen time to show off each distinct personality.
I think the best thing about this movie though was that it was unapologetic. It didn't try to apologise for or explain this world. It was absolutely confident in what it was presenting and simply asked the audience to come along for the ride. Why is there a wild west frontier town in the middle of nowhere populated by talking animals? I don't know, but isn't it great? What's with the regular dips into surreality? Who cares? It's awesome and propels the story in an interesting way. I love the courage of its conviction, to not feel like it had to have a logical explanation for its world. Go with it, or get out of the cinema.
I guess the only real disappointment I had was that, in the end, there really wasn't a lot to the story of the character's journey. While looking for something to keep my mind dwelling on this movie in the days that followed my viewing (because I loved it so much) beyond the fabulous visuals and wonderful whimsy, I come up rather empty handed.

Battle: Los Angeles. (at the movies)
I'm glad I didn't have to pay to see this, I won tickets. It started with a very strong, compelling and tense five minutes, right in the thick of the action. It then promptly sent us back 24 hours and proceeded to give us about 20 minutes of very boring, clumsy, cliché filled scenes, situations and characters, introducing the soldiers we were to follow for the rest of this alien invasion story.
The film then plays out like watching a video game, which is maybe what video game players would like to sit through, but for me it means an episodic feel to the storytelling with obvious and clumsy set-ups for each new portion of "the game", introducing the next "level" and its own "boss" to beat.
I was equally disappointed with the unimaginative design of the aliens and their hardware. To me, they were really just like the marines, with slightly more flamboyant guns. There was no real feeling of an absolute superiority to the invaders. They were just abnormally tall, bobble-headed people, with slightly louder guns and slightly faster gunships.
The ending is so inconclusive as to be horribly unsatisfying. That is if I cared enough about the characters and situation to have a desire for closure, rather than simply an end to the tedium. I didn't. But to leave a movie the way they did, they must either be setting up for a continuation (film sequel, video game or TV show), or thought they were being clever ("and so, the fight begins…"). Either way, I feel like I hadn't been given a complete run for my money.
That being said, Battle: Los Angeles surprised me with a few scenes where I actually did feel the tension, and there was even one time where I said to myself "I didn't expect that to happen".
Unfortunately my 16 year old son really liked it. He felt the tension much more than I did and was so much more forgiving of the clichés.
This is a big budget B-grade blockbuster, and I hear some people really like that sort of stuff.

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